It is International Women’s Day once again! On 8th March, Uganda and other countries around the world will come together to celebrate the women we live with for all the remarkable things they have achieved. Marked for the very first time in 1911 and the United Nations first celebrated it in 1975, this year’s theme is gender equality, aligning to the fifth UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
According to the UN Women study, “Gender Equality, Women Empowerment and HIV in Africa: The Impact of Intersecting Issues and Key Continental Priorities”, women and girls often face multiple and intersecting individual, social, cultural economic and health challenges, and HIV and Gender Based Violence mutually intersect in the harmful and malignant practice of Gender-Based Violence.
Although some women continue to go unheard of, they have silently accomplished amazing tasks in their communities thus contributing to the national agenda.
Christine Abalo, is one of those women who have changed lives of less privileged women and children in her community. The 52-year-old is a Community ARVs and TB Treatment Supporter (CATTS) at Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative (ROM), an organization that was started in 2001 with the mission to curb the further spread of HIV among less privileged members of the society.
A resident of Acholi Quarters, a Kampala suburb in Nakawa Division, Abalo, has for the last twenty years worked to change the lives of her people, particularly those living with HIV. As a member of the Local Council, Abalo utilizes the opportunity to fight gender-based violence. She handles the cases she can afford and refers others to ROM or Police.
It is on record that many women and men in Uganda have suffered a number of gender inequalities, some of which have contributed to their current health and economic status. This is also true for some cases of women living with HIV. Often times, women are forced to stay in their abusive marriages because they are economically dependent on their spouses.
Since her first encounter with PLHIV on 18th November 2001 when she joined ROM, Abalo’s heart burns with passion to make a difference in the lives of people infected and affected by HIV.
Through her role as a CATTS at ROM, the warm-hearted Christine works day and night to help children, men, women and grandmothers improve their health. She has risen through the ranks; from Volunteer, Central Volunteer, Community Supervisor, Team Leader and now CATTS.
She mobilizes them for their clinic days, makes weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly home visits to these people and ensures each of them receives medical attention and social support. Today, she serves 388 clients, all from her Acholi Quarters community. Reach Out Mbuya handles many people including Orphans and Vulnerable Children, adolescents, young mothers and grandmothers among others.
“I have been able to help very many people who come for care and treatment. Those who were terribly sick have now recovered, and many have had HIV negative children. Most of my clients are adhering to their treatment which makes them healthy. Even when those in my community specifically come looking for only me for support, I always direct them to other staff members who provide the services the clients require.” She said.
Abalo does not regret her decision to help others overcome the challenge of living with HIV. She is proud of the love she receives from these people, who even call her up to inform her about how good they feel about her being their ‘caring friend’ and that their lives are dependent on her. She recalls a time when she brought to the clinic a pregnant woman who was HIV+ but was not aware of her status.
“When the woman was tested, she was shocked by her results. Nonetheless, I talked to her and she accepted to be enrolled on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) project, which focuses on maternal and child health. When she delivered, her baby was negative. Today, the proud mother refers to me as her ‘savior” Christine narrated.
She further explains that like this lady who had at first refused to talk to anyone at the clinic apart from Christine, many of them trust and confide in her and it is trouble convincing them to be attended to by other officers at the clinic for specialized care.
Abalo adds she has herself benefitted from helping community members. During home visits and interactions at the clinic, she acquires lots of knowledge some of which has helped her sponsor her daughter ‘Margrethe’ for an aviation course at Kubis Aviation College in Entebbe. Margrethe was named after Dr. Margrethe Junker, one of the founders of ROM in 2001.
Sarah Nassolo, a Social Worker at Reach Out Mbuya and directly works with Abalo is all praises of her colleague for the extraordinary commitment. “Abalo is a very committed health worker who selflessly serves the clients in her care. She is always ready to serve them no matter the time of day or night.” She said.
Abalo says that she feels satisfied that she has been able to make other people, particularly fellow women happy. On this special International Women’s Day, she wishes everyone wherever we stay or work could exercise gender equality. This way, women will be able to live happier and productive lives.
Abalo’s actions are a lesson to us that whenever possible, we should generously extend service to those around us.